The Flying Sorcerers

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The Flying Sorcerers
Cover of first edition (paperback)
AuthorLarry Niven &
David Gerrold
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
PublisherBallantine Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (paperback)
Pages316 pp

The Flying Sorcerers is a humorous 1971 science fiction novel by American writers David Gerrold and Larry Niven. It was originally serialized in 1970 as The Misspelled Magishun in If magazine.

The book is about the efforts of a stranded astronaut to escape from a primitive world, showing how sufficiently advanced technology could be perceived as magic by its natives.

Plot summary[edit]

The plot concerns the efforts of an astronaut and geologist/anthropologist, known to the natives as "Purple", to escape from a primitive world on which he is stranded and return to his people. The events are seen from the perspective of Lant, one of the natives, who becomes, in the course of the novel, Speaker (chieftain) of his people.

The natives, a fur covered people, believe in magic and the book shows how sufficiently advanced technology would be perceived by a primitive society.

Purple lands in an egg-shaped vehicle. He casually disrupts the lives of Lant's people, and thoughtlessly demeans Shoogar, the village magician. Shoogar gets revenge by destroying Purple's vehicle, which results in an atomic explosion. Many of the villagers are dead or injured: the rest, including Lant and Shoogar, are forced to flee. Purple is presumed dead.

The villagers eventually wind up on a fertile peninsula, which, as the summer approaches, is rapidly becoming an island (thanks to the influence of the two suns, the shorelines on this world are somewhat variable). To the annoyance of the existing inhabitants of the area, the villagers contrive to be trapped in the verdant area by the rising seas. The villagers are less happy when they learn that Purple is here, serving ineffectively as local magician, having succeeded the incumbent, Dorthi, by killing him by landing on him in a fall from the sky in an impact suit.

Lant's people wish to flee, but have nowhere to go. Lant, who becomes Speaker of the villagers more or less by default, and the local Speaker persuade the two magicians to swear to a peace treaty.

Purple can call his mother ship to get him, but must return to the distant area of the old village to do so. Everyone is stranded on the island for a considerable length of time. Purple conceives the idea of fabricating a flying machine to return him to the area. He persuades his villagers (who are actually anxious to get rid of him) and Lant's, to join in the scheme.

The ship will have balloons, sails, and pedal-driven steering. A good part of the book deals with the tribulations of Purple in trying to create this work, beyond the technology of the local people. He creates 'aircloth' (a thin, airtight cloth), a rubber-equivalent, and splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. He is successful in building the ship.

But in so doing, he has changed the lives of the villagers forever. Not only do they have these new technologies, but he has created problems with crime, intoxication, the ecology, and has altered the relationship between the sexes. In addition, he has introduced money into the culture.

Purple, Shoogar, Lant, and Lant's adult two sons take off for the old village. They get there, and Purple is able to summon the mother ship and depart. There is a brief epilogue---after the return home, Lant notes that a new flying machine, much larger than the first, is to be built, thus continuing the industrial revolution started by Purple.


Lester del Rey gave the novel a mixed review, finding the comedy of the novel's first segment incongruous with the more seriously played finish, concluding "It's not at all a bad book -- but it isn't all a good one."[1]

James Nicoll has described it as "dreadful tosh",[2] and noted its "astoundingly horrible treatment of women".[3]


Most of the names in the book are jokes primarily dealing with the Science Fiction universe. This is known as Tuckerization. David Langford says "Some sort of record for over-the-top Tuckerization was set by David Gerrold and Larry Niven in their very silly novel The Flying Sorcerers (1971)." [4]



Characters and other inhabitants[edit]

  • Purple - The literal translation of "as a mauve" (in full, this is "as a color, shade of purple-grey") - Isaac Asimov.
  • Wilville and Orbur - Bicycle makers who build the first flying machine - Wright brothers.
  • Dorthi - A wizard killed by Purple falling on him from the sky - A reference to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.


External links[edit]


  1. ^ "The Reading Room", If, February 1972, p.157-58
  2. ^ Soon Found Out I Was Losing My Mind, by James Nicoll, at James Nicoll Reviews; published April 7, 2017; retrieved May 30, 2017
  3. ^ Exhibit A, by James Nicoll, at James Nicoll Reviews, published May 29, 2016; retrieved May 30, 2017
  4. ^ a b c David Langford. "Product Placement". Ansible (a column in SFX maxazine). Retrieved 2007-05-16.
  5. ^ a b c d e Post[citation needed] by Tennant Stuart on alt.books.larry-niven[citation needed]
  6. ^ Post[citation needed] by Gary Farber on rec.arts.sf.written[citation needed]